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What Is A PDF File Format? 8 Types Of PDFs & How To Edit

July 26, 2022

If you’re reading this, chances are, you've worked with PDFs or used PDF file formats before in the past.

But if you’re wondering how they work, what are the different types of PDF formats, how to make changes, and why they’re often the go-to format for many working professionals, you’ve come to the right place.

Below, we’ll cover everything you need to know about portable document formats, how to make changes to your documents, all the different types of PDFs, and more.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

  • What Is A Portable Document Format (PDF) File?
  • Why Should You Use PDF Files For Work? 6 Biggest Benefits
  • Understanding The 8 Different Types Of PDFs: What’s The Difference
  • What Can You Do With PDF Documents? 7 Essential Editing Features All Document Management Tools Need
  • Best Way To Manage And Edit PDF Files

What Is A Portable Document Format (PDF) File?

First things first, what is a PDF file format, exactly?

The acronym PDF stands for Portable Document Format. The format, made by Adobe, is one of the most commonly used file types today, both for work and personal uses today.

It enables users to create and exchange documents in a simple and trustworthy way. Given its versatility, PDF can be shared across any platform - notwithstanding the software, hardware, or OS on which a user views the document.

In 1991, a paper-to-digital revolution, an idea called Camelot Project, was flagged off by Dr. John Warnock - Adobe co-founder. The goal was clear: to build a solution that can enable users to get files from any program and share its electronic versions anywhere. And make the documents viewable and printable on any machine. This idea gave birth to what we know today as PDF in 1992.

A few decades later, it has turned into the file format that organizations and private users around the world love and trust. At present, the PDF format is maintained by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) as an open standard

With PDF documents and files, you can include links, buttons, form fields, audio, video, and more. 

Documents can be signed electronically and can be viewed & shared effortlessly on macOS or Windows using relevant readers.

Why Should You Use PDF Files For Work? 6 Biggest Benefits

There’s a reason why PDF is one of the most commonly used file formats.

If you were ever curious why that’s the case, some of the biggest benefits of using PDFs include:

  • Convenience.
  • Flexibility.
  • Aesthetics.
  • Safety.
  • Greater files size.
  • Stable file format.

Now, let’s cover each in detail.

1. Convenience

The PDF format is convenient to use as it is compatible with all operating systems and it is easy to view and share. 

With a PDF file, you do not have to worry about your file not displaying on a given device or operating system. 

A lot of devices and operating systems come with in-built tools to view PDF documents. 

The file format offers a wide range of features and there are tools to help you maximize what PDF documents can offer.

2. Flexibility

You can add various types of content when working with a PDF file. 

Rich media and elements like images, videos, 3D models, animation, and more. You can integrate all of that without running the risk of organizing the file or ruining the user experience. 

As a result, there is no need to use different tools to create a feature-rich document. 

With PDF’s capabilities, you can easily create standard presentations, portfolios, reports, and more.

3. Aesthetics

PDFs allow you to add visuals, making documents aesthetically appealing. 

This plays a vital role in making a document presentable and easier to work on. 

With PDFs, the days of “bland” documents are over. Visuals are available to help you improve user experience - with no hassle.

4. File safety 

Security is one of the biggest concerns of organizations and individuals, alike. 

Especially if you’re managing sensitive information like customer data, personal identifiable information, health records, passwords, and more.

If you are looking for a secure file format, search no further than PDF. It is widely adopted by companies because it comes with a reliable security feature - like password protection

There are functions to help you restrict access and keep sensitive files safe and out of the reach of cyber malicious actors. 

As an admin, you can also determine the levels of privileges users enjoy, enabling you to set necessary boundaries.

5. Great file size

PDFs can contain a high volume of information at a good, easy-to-share file size without sacrificing quality. 

There is no need to worry about documents taking up large hard disc space.

Though, you can always compress your PDF files if you want to save storage.

6. Stable file format

Have you ever used a file format that gets distorted when opened with a certain device or OS? 

Unlike some files that get messy when opened on a device or version that is not the same as the source, PDFs can be shared widely without the format change.

In short, there are a lot of reasons to use PDFs.

But even though most people only ever use the “regular” PDF format, it’s not the only PDF format.

Understanding The 8 Different Types Of PDFs: What’s The Difference

When working with PDF files and documents, it’s important to know what type of PDF you’re dealing with. Typically, PDFs are categorized in several different ways.

But for the most part, the 8 different types of PDFs are as follows:

  • PDF.
  • PDF/A.
  • PDF/E.
  • PDF/X.
  • PDF/VT.
  • PDF/UA.
  • PAdES.
  • PDF Healthcare.

Let’s take a look at what each means and when to use each kind of PDF format.

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6 Types of PDFs based on ISO

According to ISO, International Standards Organization, the 6 main types of PDFs are as follows:

  1. PDF - The general PDF standard used at offices and for sharing and viewing files online.
  2. PDF/A - This type is ideal for storing files for a long time. It is used by people who require long-term file storage, like records managers and archivists. 
  3. PDF/E - This format comes with features that solve engineering needs like large-format drawings, multimedia, and so on. Architects, construction experts, and people in the manufacturing space use this PDF standard.
  4. PDF/X - This type comes with features that improve font embedding, color profiles, images, etc. Consequently, it is ideal for print experts and graphic designers.
  5. PDF/VT - Works like the PDF/X format. But it is different with improved capabilities, like additional customization features. It is suitable for print professionals and graphic experts.
  6. PDF/UA - The UA here means Universal Access. It comes with technologies to help users read and navigate.

2 Types of PDFs based on other organizations

The two main types of PDF standards according to other organizations include:

  1. PAdES - PDF Advanced Electronic Signatures, instituted for PDF digital signatures in the European Union - in line with relevant legislation.
  2. PDF Healthcare - This standard was established to offer secure best practices for handling and managing healthcare information. Goes without saying, this is for healthcare professionals and organizations that store and transmit sensitive healthcare documents. 

See our guide on healthcare document management best practices for more info on the latter.

Now, you might be wondering how to manage and edit documents using editing features that come with document management tools. We’ll explore what you can do with PDF files using some tools.

What Can You Do With PDF Documents? 7 Essential Editing Features All Document Management Tools Need

No matter the type of PDF editing tools you use, there are some must-have features you need for proper document management. 

The 7 essential PDF management features include:

  • File Locking: This is a crucial security feature that restricts PDF access and prevents unauthorized users from moving, editing, or deleting a file. For instance, password- protection is a common way of locking documents. See our guide to locked PDFs for more info.
  • Text and Forms Addition: Before settling for a tool, ensure it allows you to add texts and PDF forms. You should be able to create a table of contents in a PDF and add text to a file as you wish. When it comes to forms, see our guide on how to create fillable PDF forms without Adobe acrobat.
  • Drag and Drop Features: These features allow you to drag and drop files from folder to folder, thereby making editing fast and easy.
  • Adding Visual symbols and Signatures: The ability to include visual symbols and signatures is a crucial feature every PDF management tool should have. For example, see how to type accents and symbols.
  • Web Access: Being able to access documents over the internet is very important.  This helps users to edit files from anywhere. Collaboration is an essential part of your document management lifecycle.
  • Adding Watermarks: A digital watermark confers a seal of ownership on documents. It helps users to know the sources of files.
  • Document Search: Having access to a Search feature makes editing fast and convenient. Instead of wasting time looking for files, the feature allows you to find a file just by entering a keyword. See how to search a PDF for text for more examples.

Best Way To Manage And Edit PDF Files

Last but not least, to get practical, below, we’ll cover some quick steps on the best ways to manage and edit your PDFs.

Here’s what you need to know.

How to open a PDF file

This might seem obvious…

If you double click on a PDF file, regardless of your operating system, chances are, it’ll open automatically with the default software.

Though, there is a wide range of tools you can use to open and edit PDF files. 

One of the most popular is Adobe Acrobat Reader, which comes with the necessary features you need to open and manage your files.

Other leading tools include MS Word, Google Docs, and browsers like Chrome or Firefox. You can also open PDF files with web-based online tools.

How to edit a PDF file

For many people, Adobe Acrobat is the default PDF management tool.

At no surprise, you can also edit PDF files with Adobe.

However, there are other prominent PDF editors like Microsoft Word, Foxit PDF Editor, and Nitro PDF Pro

If you are looking for a free PDF online editing tool, those are a search away too.

With the right PDF editing tool, you can effortlessly add images, links, texts, and more.

If you’re looking for guides on how to edit your PDF files, be sure to also read:

How to convert digital files to PDF

Some of the tools mentioned above have features you can use to create or convert to PDF. 

With a PDF creator, you can convert files like images, eBooks, MS Word documents, and so on, into PDF files. 

This depends on the specific file format you’re working with. But for the most part, the steps will similar, if not the same.

See here to learn how to convert your digital files into a PDF for more info:

Conclusion

To recap, PDF, or a Portable Document Format, remains the most popular document format used by professionals across every industry. It has a wide range of features that make it the format of choice for work as well as personal needs.

That said, if you want to get the most out of your PDFs, you need a good document management system. 

With the right tool, you can streamline a lot of your document collaboration processes and even automate certain actions, such as PDF document generation or looking for documents.

Considering an average of 4 weeks is lost each year on misfiled, mislabeled, or lost documents, a proper documentation system can be of huge help.

So, is document automation right for you?

See our guide on what makes document automation possible for more info!

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The easiest way to automatically generate and manage paperless documents at scale.
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